Nuclear Power Will Set Back Race Against Global Warming, New Report Shows

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Environment Minnesota

Minneapolis, MN – Far from a solution to global warming, nuclear power will actually set America back in the race to reduce pollution, according to a new report by Environment Minnesota. Leading environmental organizations are calling on states and Congress to focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy instead of nuclear power as the solution to global warming.

“When it comes to global warming, time and money are of the essence and nuclear power will fail Minnesota on both accounts,” said Samantha Chadwick, Environmental Associate with Environment Minnesota. “With government dollars more precious than ever, nuclear power is a foolish investment that will set us back in the race against global warming.”

Environment Minnesota’s new report released today, Generating Failure: How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming, analyzes the role, under a best-case scenario, that nuclear power could play in reducing global warming pollution. Some key findings of the report include:

  • To avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global warming, America must cut power plant emissions roughly in half over the next 10 years.
  • Nuclear power is too slow to contribute to this effort. No new reactors are now under construction in the United States. Building a single reactor could take 10 years or longer. As a result, it is quite possible that nuclear power could deliver no progress in the critical next decade, despite spending billions on reactor construction.
  • Even if the nuclear industry somehow managed to build 100 new nuclear reactors by 2030, nuclear power could reduce total U.S. emissions of global warming pollution over the next 20 years by only 12 percent — far too little, too late.
  • In contrast, energy efficiency and renewable energy can immediately reduce global warming pollution. Energy efficiency programs are already cutting electricity consumption by 1-2 percent annually in leading states, and the U.S. wind industry is already building the equivalent of three nuclear reactors per year in wind farms. America has vast potential to do more.
  • Building 100 new reactors would require an up-front investment on the order of $600 billion dollars – money which could cut at least twice as much carbon pollution by 2030 if invested in clean energy. Taking into account the ongoing costs of running the nuclear plants, clean energy could deliver 5 times more pollution-cutting progress per dollar.
  • Nuclear power is not necessary to provide clean, carbon-free electricity for the long haul. The need for base-load power is exaggerated and small-scale clean energy solutions can actually enhance the reliability of the electric grid.

“We can spend $600 billion on nuclear power and fail to reduce enough global warming pollution to make a difference until it is too late,” said Chadwick. “Or we could spend the same money on clean energy and achieve twice the carbon reductions at a much faster pace.”

To address global warming, state and federal policy makers should focus on improving energy efficiency and generating electricity from clean sources that never run out – such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal power, according to Environment Minnesota and the coalition of groups working to keep Minnesota’s 30 year moratorium on new nuclear plants in place.

“Nuclear energy remains as flawed an idea today as it was in the 1980’s — the last time it was rejected by the American public,” said Dave Hamilton, Director of Energy Programs at the Sierra Club.  “Today we have cleaner, cheaper, faster solutions that we should be investing in before we seriously consider reviving the nuclear dinosaur.”

Margaret Levin, State Director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, added, “Minnesota has some of the best clean, renewable energy resources in the nation.   Our state must focus on real global warming solutions like wind, solar, and efficiency that will create clean energy jobs right away, when they are most needed.”

 “New nuclear power investments would actually worsen climate change because the money spent on nuclear reactors would not be available for solutions that fight it faster and at lower cost,” said Peter Bradford, a former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner. “Counting on new nuclear reactors as a climate change solution is no more sensible than counting on an un-built dam to create a lake to fight a nearby forest fire.”